Friday, July 30, 2004

Gimme Some Wheels

This seems to be the day for stories related to wheels:

First, there is the hypertrophied Batmobile from the upcoming flick Batman Begins, due next year. Whatever happened to the 1966 rocket powered version of the car? I bet Alfred loves washing and waxing this monster.

Next, the ultimate off road mod for the Segway. A company in Seattle rents this thing out for parties.

Finally, some of you may know that I don't ordinarily favor anything evangelical. But here is a story about a religious mission that is filling a gaping need in third world countries. They are providing free wheelchairs. The wheelchair is designed from those awful plastic lawn chairs, combined with some steel tubing, and a couple of bicycle wheels. Cost: $42US. Commercial wheelchairs can cost hundreds of dollars, way out of reach in countries where the average person doesn't earn that much in a year! The Free Wheelchair Mission shipped 10,000 chairs in December alone. They also have roll-your-own plans posted. This is a huge boon, especially in those countries with legacy land mine problems.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Whatever Happened to Nancy Drew?

Keitai Deka

Where have the heroes of childhood novels gone? Nancy Drew, Tom Swift and His Electric Widget Gun, and the Hardy Boys? Have they disappeared, or did they just fall off my radar as I grew older (and started reading Heinlein, Anderson, Simak, et al)?

To fill this void, the Japanese (who else?) have a new TV series called Keitai Deka, which means "The Cell Phone Detective". It's about a teenage schoolgirl who solves crimes with the help of her trusty cameraphone. No more human sidekicks, I guess.

"That's no moon. It's a space station."

Source: Voyager1 Source:

NASA's Cassini Space Probe shot some new pictures of the crater Herschel on Saturn's moon Mimas, above left. There is a curious resemblance to another image that's been seen for the last 30 years. The crater is ~130 Km wide, so it can be seen from Earth. No surprises there. Mimas itself is about 400 Km wide, twice the putative dimensions of the Death Star.

Is the discovery of the moon Themis from John Varley's Titan next?

Monday, July 26, 2004

We're From The Government, And We're Here To Help You

It was bad enough when most of the supermarket chains started requiring American citizens to carry ID cards in order to buy a loaf of bread at merely retail price. Now President Bush has signed an executive order preventing you from paying cash for a house or a new car unless the dealer/realtor runs a background check first to make sure you are not a terrorist! If they don't run a check, they can be fined $250,000, or get up to 10 years in prison or both. So much for encouraging people to live within their means.

Here's a terrifying look at what it will be like to even order a pizza soon. Turn your sound up to play this Shockwave clip from the ACLU.

Next, did you know that running a website in contact with TV fans around the world was an international conspiracy against the MPAA? Adam McGaughey, creator of the popular website found out the hard way. Even though Stargate executive producer Brad Wright called the site "cool", someone took offense.

First, the FBI investigated McGaughey under the Patriot Act. Then they raided his apartment, seized all his computer equipment. When the equipment was taken, the FBI guaranteed that it would be returned within 60 days. Eight months later, McGaughey finally got back a pile of hardware that had been vandalized, and much of which was damaged beyond repair. Finally, to add insult to injury, the Feds filed charges against him in a Los Angeles court, even though McGaughey, a lordly Macintosh repair technician, lives in Cincinnati, Ohio. Oddly, there has been almost no media coverage of this at all.

UPDATE: Turns out the Stargate contreversy is ont as clear-cut as Mr. McGaughey might like. See this thread on /. and lots of comments on Usenet for more details.

Real Reverse Engineering

Lot's of sources are reporting that Real has released a hack to allow you to play music in their own proprietary Rhapsody format on Apple's iPod, which normally doesn't recognize anything but the AAC format.

What few seem to be mentioning though, is that this seems to be a direct violation of the DMCA. Most of my readers (OK, all three of you) will probably agree that the DMCA is evil, but its interesting that a major company is going where individual developers have been crushed before.

Monday, July 19, 2004

How Do I Get A Deal Like This?

After years of investigation, litigation, rumors, and innuendo, Portland, OR entrepreneur Andrew Wiederhorn made a plea bargain with federal prosecutors. He agreed to an 18 month prison sentence, and to the payment of $2M (that's $2 million) in restitution to investors in Capital Consultants. His company collapsed in September 2000, defaulting on a $160 million debt.

The day after reaching the plea arrangement, Wiederhorn's new company, Fog Cutter Capital, announced that in addition to continuing to pay Wiederhorn $335,000 a year as co-CEO while he is in prison, they have decided to award him a $2 million "leave of absence" payment! Where did I just read that number?

As a result of this move, Fog Cutter may be de-listed by the NASDAQ stock exchange.

Contact That Naval Station

This posting is really more about the photo than the product. Another 128MB MP3 player wouldn't rate mention otherwise.

Do You Want Chutney With That Big Mac?

Use the drive-thru at a McDonalds near Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and your order is actually taken at a call center 900 miles away in Colorado Springs. According to this story in the International Herald Tribune, a Colorado Springs company was started specifically to outsource drive-thru orders for restaurants. This actually makes some sense, since they are focused only on taking orders over an intercom, and the customer has less chance of running into delays or an illiterate cashier. Can moving the service offshore be far behind?

Speaking of fast food offshore (sort of), an entrepreneur in Mumbai (nee Bombay) India has started an American style chain of fast food restaurants specializing in vada pav, a potato patty on a bun, a staple of the ordinary Mumbaikar. A vegetarian alternative to McDonald's.

Saturday, July 17, 2004

One Rail Forward, One Rail Back

The Las Vegas Monorail project opened this week to rave reviews. Running from the MGM on Tropicana Blvd. just north of the airport, across Sands Blvd. to the Convention Center and then on to the Sahara, it runs 20 feet above the densest portion of the strip, though it does bypass some of the older mega-hotels at the north end. Proposed extensions would run south to the airport, and north through downtown to Cashman Field.

Meanwhile, there is yet another petition underway to stop the Seattle Monorail project. Rarely mentioned is that most of this spoiler effort is being funded by Seattle developer Martin Selig, who once controlled as much as half of the office space in Seattle. Many of the signatures have been collected by paid signature-gatherers. Hardly a populist effort. Unfortunately, the Seattle Monorail must defeat every challenge to survive, while the spoilers need win only once. Why isn't the politician driven Seattle Light Rail project encountering similar obstacles?

Friday, July 16, 2004

One Very Small Step

It was 35 years ago today that NASA launched Apollo 11, leading to Neil Armstrong becoming the first man known to have set foot on the moon.

Despite the oft quoted One small step for man, his first words as he stuck his foot onto the surface were really "It's some kind of soft stuff. I can move it around with my boot." I can't find a web reference supporting this, but I clearly remember it from the live TV coverage of the landing. You'd think with half a billion other witnesses, someone would have made a web page.

The sad thing is that after five more landings, no one has been back to the moon in over 30 years.

Dead Man's Curve

Not something you would want to drive around Dead Man's Curve at any speed, but this Corvette stretch limo is still a neat looking ride.

Democratic Convention Not Awarding Hugos

Web site names notwithstanding, the DNC nominating convention in Boston will not be voting on the Hugo Awards this year. In a spasm of originality, the Democratic Convention web site was named, while the 62nd World Science Fiction Convention (WSFC) named theirs You can see the potential for confusion.

To prevent any misguided science fiction fans from trying to nominate Neal Stephenson for President instead of for a Best Novel Award, the Noreascon Four committee which is hosting the WSFC posted a list of the top 71 reasons that they are different from the Democrats. The top ten reasons are:
  1. We're not $10 million over budget. We don't even have a $10 million budget.
  2. Our promises for the future are supposed to be fiction.
  3. You
    don't have to donate thousands of dollars to us (though we wouldn't
    complain)—we'll give you a high-level appointment to work for us for
  4. The media will not outnumber the attendees.
  5. Thoats and banthas are more interesting animals than donkeys and elephants.
  6. The folks wandering around with walkie-talkies are likely to be helpful and friendly.
  7. The slogans on our buttons are actually funny, and many of them are about cats.
  8. No one will be kissing babies except their immediate families and friends.
  9. When we talk about "skull and bones" it's probably in a discussion about paleontology.
  10. When we sling mud, it's probably in a workshop on making alien pottery.
The Hugo Awards are given out annually, based on a vote by attendees at the WSFC.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

More INDUCEments

More developments on the INDUCE bill mentioned earlier. Ernest Miller at Corante has posted a scathing deconstruction of a letter by the RIAA's president to the Senate defending the act. Another, much shorter version is there too.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Cameras To Be Licensed?

It seems that Homeland Security would like to restrict camera ownership, just like they used to do in the Soviet Union.

Ian Spiers, a black/Scots 35 year old Ballard resident, was at the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks to take some pictures for a photography class at Shoreline Community College. The Locks are a major local tourist attraction, and lots of people take pix there.

On the first occasion, someone thought he looked suspicious, and took down his license plate number. Seattle P.D. showed up on his doorstep to question him.

The next time he went to take photos, he was approached by a security guard. When he didn't satisfy the guard, he found himself surrounded by armed feds in black.

The ACLU is investigating the incidents, and there is suspicion that Spiers was targeted by racial profiling. Spiers has a blog set up at Seattle P.I story here.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Let The Chips Fall...

I posted an item in May about club goers in Barcelona voluntarily getting RFID chips implanted in their arms. Well the practice is exploding much faster than might have been anticipated.

First a Reuters report that Mexican Attorney General, Rafael Macedo, revealed that he and his staff had been implanted with microchips. He says that the purpose is for database access control, and to aid finding them if they are ever kidnapped.

Next, Japanese school children in Osaka are going to be chipped right down to their socks. RFID chips will be placed in backpacks and clothing, so that scanners in the school can track their movements. At least the kids aren't going to be getting them internally. Yet.

Why can't the airlines do this to find lost luggage?

Church of the Painted Breast

Chalk (or paint) one up for the good guys.

The BBC has a report on a group at who reversed the scam on a Nigerian 419 scam artist, and came away with a profit of $80 and a birthday card! They convinced the con man that they were the Church of the Painted Breast, and that their rituals required that they mark themselves as shown in the picture above. So the guy did! Sent them a picture as proof. Then they went for the money. Wonder if the pix he sent are any good for mug shots.

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Batten Down The Hatch (Bill)

Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) once suggested that people who download copyright materials from the Internet should have their computers automatically destroyed.

Now, if he has his way, your iPod, Tivo, or even your VCR could get you arrested. Cloaked under the banner of protecting children from pornography, Hatch's Inducing Infringement of Copyrights Act (aka INDUCE Act) bans most forms of file copying products. It's no surprise that the RIAA loves the bill. Congress is once again trying to override the 1984 Sony-Betamax Supreme Court decision

Curiously, there seems to be much more coverage of the issue in Britain and Canada then there is in the U.S.

Blockhead Spiderman

The London based animation group Spite Your Face Productions has produced an (apparently authorized) incredible feature, The Peril of Doc Ock, based on the current Spider-man 2 movie, done entirely with Lego blocks! They've done this sort of thing before, but it's really quite a stunning piece of work. Check it out at on Yahoo Movies.

Mr. Peabody's Wayback Machine

Well it's almost as good. The Living Candidate has every presidential campaign TV commercial since the Eisenhower/Stevenson race in 1952. A great historical reference.

I, Rebut

At some point in the future, some form of voting via the Internet will probably be the norm. But electronic voting machine technology ain't ready for prime time yet. Current generation systems mostly lack any sort of mechanism to allow verification/validation of votes, or to perform any sort of recount. The first Mayor Daley would have loved them. Lots of modern politicos seem to too.

To highlight this problem, Verified Voting, a nonprofit devoted to fighting paperless electronic voting machines is sponsoring a national "Computer Ate My Vote" protest on July 13. See their protest site for more details.

Friday, July 09, 2004

Do You Need A Cheap Cruise Missile?

Bruce Simpson, 42 year old designer of the No-weld pulsejet engine, gained notoriety when he built a working cruise missile in his backyard using parts ordered off the Internet.

Now he has been bankrupt by the New Zealand government, resulting in a deal he had with a U.S. Fortune 500 company being cancelled. Simpson and his family have been reduced to living on donations. The NZ government first told him that is project was legal, but then reversed their position after being pressured by the U.S. Or so he claims.

If you happen to need a low cost missile designer, click here. Only non-NZ parties need apply.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Flying Whales

People have been talking for years about using blimps as relay platforms. BTW, the socially correct term now seems to be high-altitude airships.

Now comes a plan to use them for broadband WiFi. But mostly, I just liked the picture.

Our President is an Idiot

Tom Bihn, Inc. in Port Angeles, WA makes travel gear and clothing. Per federal regulations, they include a label with washing instructions, and (presumably) because of their proximity to the Great White North the labels also include instructions in French. Someone recently noticed that in addition to the usual "warm wash, machine dry" info, the French version included: Nous sommes désolés que notre président soit un idiot. Nous n’avons pas voté pour lui. Translation: We are sorry that our president is an idiot. We did not vote for him.

The eponymous company president, Tom Bihn, apologies for the prank by someone at the factory. He says he's not sure if they are referring to himself, George Bush, or Jacques Chirac.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Cars in Strange Places

First I had the story about the car in the swimming pool. Then the driver who made it 50 yards from the ferry Chelan before ending up in Puget Sound.

Now comes this story about a driver in Houston who managed to find yet another innovative way to destroy his vehicle.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Corporate Espionage


The very influential Gartner Group has come out with a recommendation that companies ban Apple's iPod and similar storage devices. Is seems that they learned that such devices can be used to make illegal copies of corporate information, or bypass firewalls and virus scanners to introduce malware.

Seems they haven't ever heard of that other cutting edge new invention, the floppy disk.

Diving Off The Shallow End Of The Gene Pool

A feckless tourist on board the San Juan Island Ferry Chelan drove his car off the wrong end of the boat this weekend when it docked at Anacortes. Not only did he end up in the water, but he somehow had gotten up enough speed to land 40 to 50 yards away from the boat! In reverse gear! No one was hurt, but ferry traffic was stopped for two hours, and may be screwed up for days until they get the car out of the water.

Clearly the driver was wielding a more dangerous weapon than the poor woman in the previous posting.

Saturday, July 03, 2004

Liberty or Security

Our national response to 9/11 seems to be an excessive case of babyproofing. We seem to want to restrict citizens from using any form of public transportation while carrying a pair of fingernail clippers. This completely ignores that fact that the box-cutters used by the hijackers on 9/11 were already banned by the extant screening rules.

The restrictions enacted in the name of Homeland Security have made travelers defenseless, hounded most model rocket clubs from existence, and now made ships and ferries so safe that we are protected from sailing cancer patients. If they thought they could get away with it, the government would probably like to shut down farmers (fertilizer) and truck stops (fuel oil).

The point to this particular rant? New shipping rules imposed this week quickly resulted in Coast Guard boats and police descending on the Seattle/Bainbridge Island ferry Wenatchee when a chemotherapy patient triggered radiation alarms. Eventually, they decided that the woman was neither trying to hijack the boat to Cuba, nor explode herself to take out Ivar's Acres of Clams at the docks. They simply had the detectors set so high that they would probably have detected the americium-241 in a smoke detector.

I'm sure the authorities felt it was good practice. The passengers were probably less amused. It's just another example of focusing on trivia while ignoring the base problem. Gun bans made cities less safe. Most of these travel restrictions simply make passengers easy prey outside airports and train stations. When will the American public stand up against these new restrictions on liberty? Let's restrict the terrorists, not the citizens.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

*Snoopy for President*

Back the Beagle in 2004


With all the hype going on for the upcoming Presidential Election, wouldn't it be nice if we had the choice to vote for None of the Above?

Air Force Bans Sodaphone

The U.S. Air Force's Wright-Patterson A.F.B. has banned Coke's promotional Sodaphone as a threat to national security.

The Sodaphone consists of a GPS unit and a cell phone built into what looks like a standard can of Coke. The package is then mixed in with random 12-, 18-, 20-, or 24-packs. Anyone finding one of these surprises is supposed to press a button on the can, which connects them with the contest hotline. The GPS is then used to locate them, so that a 2005 Chevrolet Equinox can be delivered on the spot. One Sodaphone per 2.5 million ordinary cans.

Wright-Pat has banned the cans. They must be worried that someone will use the technology to figure out where the base is located.